Santa Barbara County exceeds 2010 self-response rate
As its Sept. 30 deadline rapidly approaches, U.S. Census Bureau workers are scrambling to count every person living in the country, despite COVID-19 restrictions putting their efforts on pause.
Data showed that Santa Barbara County exceeded its self-response rate from the 2010 U.S. Census by 0.3%, which is considered a large win, especially amid the global pandemic.
Having to pivot with the delayed deadline from COVID-19 and pivot again with the accelerated deadline by the Trump administration, census workers have partnered up with city and county officials, nonprofits, private agencies and other local organizations to educate the public on responding and reach out to those who have yet to respond.
“For the past two years, we approached different entities letting people know the census is safe, easy and important,” Donald Bendz, a U.S. Census Bureau spokesperson, told the News-Press.
He said when it’s broken down to people that it’s safe and the information cannot be shared or used against them; it’s easy to respond online, over the phone or by mail; and it’s important because of the hundreds of billions of dollars sent back into the communities, people typically come around and respond.
However, census workers still struggle to reach the “Hard To Count” populations — unemployed, low-income persons, limited and non-English speakers, people living in crowded and/or rented units, multi-unit structures, persons who don’t live in traditional housing, children age 0 to 5 and seniors, among others.
In addition, the Census Bureau must count the homeless populations in a completely different and separate operation called “service-based enumeration.”
From Sept. 22 through Sept. 24, workers will contact soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food banks in Santa Barbara County to find and count people experiencing homelessness in all the “transitory” locations.
“Our partners have identified them (transitory locations), and they will give us a big list, telling us to go under this bridge, go to this intersection, go to this park,” Mr. Bendz said. “They will do a visual count based on the information our partners get. It’s a massive undertaking, and it takes a lot of coordination.”
The census spokesperson added that all census takers knocking on doors and surveying in public are trained with social distancing, wear face masks and use hand sanitizer. He also mentioned that census taking is a low-risk operation and can easily be done beyond the six-foot guideline.
According to Mr. Bendz, Santa Barbara County is doing well with its self-response rate, exceeding the state and national average. The county’s census workers are also ahead of schedule to get everyone counted by Sept. 30.
However, he said there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
An interactive map tool on the 2020 Census website displays the areas in Santa Barbara that have sent in more or less responses. According to the city’s specific graph, the downtown area close to the coastline, along with the coastal area in Montecito, are the sections with the lowest self-response rates.
Joni Maiden is the co-chair of the Santa Barbara County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, which is a combination of individuals in local government, private agencies and nonprofits doing outreach in the communities they serve as trusted messengers already.
The committee has explored new ways of outreach, including car caravans and bicycle caravans through communities. It also launched a Spanish-language print, TV, radio and digital advertising campaign.
“We still have more time. It’s just a matter of trying to keep agile and figure out where our community members are,” she told the News-Press.
She pointed out that an undercount of just 5% is a loss of $430 million back into the community, and Santa Barbara County is sitting at around 30% of an undercount.
“The census is programmed for nutrition, schooling, child care, health care, infrastructure, emergency operation services and all those programs that we’re seeing how needed they are during this COVID event,” Ms. Maiden said. “We aren’t just affecting our future; we are determining our kids’ future for the next 10 years.”
The count ends in September, but all the data won’t be final or presented until March 2021.